In-Flight Dining: Virgin America vs. Singapore Airlines

In-Flight Dining: Virgin America vs. Singapore Airlines

Meet this year’s winners of the World’s Best Airlines for Food*: Virgin America and Singapore Airlines. They’ve changed the experience of dining on high—Virgin by reinventing the way meals are served in the back of the plane, and Singapore by raising the bar for first-class dining.

Passenger Profile

Virgin America Coach, World’s Best Airline for Food, domestic: The two-year-old San Francisco–based domestic upstart appeals to budget-minded weekenders (many heading to Vegas) and cross-country fliers looking for an alternative in-flight experience.

Singapore Airlines First Class, World’s Best Airline for Food, international: With a presence in 65 airports around the world and a reputation for polished, discreet service, Singapore’s main clients are international businesspeople and discerning leisure travelers.

Annual Food & Beverage Budget

VA: Undisclosed.

SA: $500 million on food; $15 million on beverages; $16.5 million on wines.

Estimated Cost of Meal to Airline

VA: All main cabin snacks sell for $3 to $6 and cost the airline roughly half their selling price. Cost of meals undisclosed.

SA: From $60 (base cost, excluding beverages and special ingredients.) All meals and drinks are complimentary.

Menu

VA: A selection of sandwiches, salads, and snacks with an emphasis on fresh and healthy; includes a fruit-and-cheese plate with pecans and dried cranberries, a spinach salad with strawberries and feta, and a “Napa Valley” chicken salad wrap with apples and currants.

SA: A rotating library of over 15,000 dishes created in consultation with its “international culinary panel,” a team of eight high-profile chefs from around the world. Options range from laksa to nigiri sushi to pan-seared pheasant and an all-American 8 oz. rib eye with a peppercorn sauce.

Most Popular Dish

VA: Seared flatiron steak sandwich on a ciabatta roll with roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, and pesto.

SA: Lobster thermidor with asparagus, slow-roasted tomato, and saffron rice.

Beverages

VA: California’s Wente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a cocktail-heavy list that includes mojitos, Cosmos, and even Le Tourment Vert Absinthe.

SA: Krug Grande Cuvée, Dom Pérignon 2000, and an extensive list of Old and New World wines, including a 2004 Château Patache d’Aux Médoc and a 2005 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay. Singapore Slings also available.

Presentation

VA: Main-cabin meals can be ordered at any time via a touch-screen monitor in the seat back and then hand-delivered by a flight attendant. No aisle-blocking trolleys necessary.

SA: The full china-and-crystal treatment for six courses spread over two hours; begins with warm nuts and bread service (choose from nine varieties) and ends with a cheese cart, a digestif, and chocolates.

Technical Triumph

VA: Pioneered on-demand dining: you eat what you want, when you want it.

SA: Holds food and wine tastings in a pressurized room in Singapore to simulate the in-flight experience, and vets dishes thoroughly for not only taste, but color, height, and overall appearance.

Biggest Contribution to Airline Food

VA: Recognizing that economy-class airline food can be both a source of revenue and a major draw for passengers.

SA: Returning a sense of glamour—and excitement—to first-class dining.

*As voted by T+L readers in the 2009 World’s Best Awards survey.

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